Films: Borgman

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Netherlands, 2013, 118 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Crime, Cult, Dark Comedy, Drama
Program: Focus on National Cinema: Netherlands
Language: Dutch English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: Alex van Warmerdam
Producer: Marc van Warmerdam
Editor: Job ter Burg
Screenwriter: Alex van Warmerdam
Cinematographer: Tom Erisman
Principal Cast: Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval, Alex van Warmerdam, Tom Dewispelaere, Sara Hjort Ditlevsen

What could be more ghastly than you and your loved ones metamorphosing into complacent apathetics? In most of American horror cinema the majority of the plot involves the principals trying to defeat the evil, or at least trying to resist it. In this subtly sinister Dutch production, humans are mere marionettes, completely willing to commit heinous acts they otherwise would never dream of. How can one combat the evil without even being aware of its existence? Using conventions prominent in the fantasy genre, Borgman’s supernatural souls share a realm with mortals and play a hand in their fate without the latter ever being the wiser.

The picture begins with your standard monster-hunting fare. A priest takes the Eucharist and then grabs a shotgun to eradicate the pestilence afflicting the local country folk. But one may even develop sympathy for Anton and his friends, whose only offense seems to be living underground with amazingly stellar cellphone service. Anton escapes to the affluent suburbs and is refused a bath at Richard’s state-of-the-art Northern Euro abode.

It is here that the nondescript forces (Are they vampires? Magicians? Shapeshifters?) infiltrate and infest the family as characters slowly transform. We don’t blink an eye as a child becomes a killer, wife betrays husband, and innocent gardeners don Sicilian cement helmets. Eerie images will remain in viewers’ minds: a naked Borgman hovering over Marina as she sleeps, maneuvering her dreams; his cronies landscaping their backyard in business suits; a macabre theater resurrected with a soporific anticlimactic performance.

This 2013 Cannes selection perfectly weaves sumptuous cinematography with hypnotic editing. Director Alex van Warmerdam does not seem to take a stance on any particular “moral,” but many motifs can be extrapolated from circumstances and dialogue. Marina comments on not deserving the privileged life, and the impostor doctor diagnoses the children as ill from being overtired of the modern world of Internet, TV, school, and family stress. Class and racial issues mesh well in this contemporary folktale.

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